A couple years ago, I confessed to my husband that I noticed a pattern in my Bible reading. Each year I’d print off a list of the books of the Bible and mark them off as I chose to study different ones in my daily time in the Word. But those lists had a pattern—I avoided certain books.
Before I reveal you my neglected books, let me say that as I’ve taught how to study genre for 15 years, I’ve found that different personalities are naturally drawn to different kinds of biblical writing. Those fiction-loving, relationally-gifted gals? They’re ready for the narratives. My artistically-minded creatives? They already have the wisdom poetry open. But the grammar-loving, linear-thinking women—we tend to end up in the didactic literature. Give us all the epistles and prophecy. That’s me, folks. I’ll take the didactic lit, and then I’ll turn to the narratives. But, I will skip the wisdom literature unless I’m intentional. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes hadn’t seen much love for a long time.
So, I’ve been slowing down in the wisdom books on purpose. One thing I am doing to dig deep is to pray the psalms. Now, this may sound obvious. We know they are prayers, and we may naturally pray the words we read to God as our eyes skim them. Yet, I believe it benefits us to slow down, do healthy observation of the poetry, and then pray the truth related to our own context. It’s giving structure to our own prayers, as we meditate and study the prayer book of the Scriptures.
Here’s a plan to follow.
Pick a Psalm.
- Pick a psalm that you can relate to in this season. This way you can follow the example of the psalmist in what he is saying.
- It’s best to avoid the royal, wisdom, and Zion psalms, meaning the ones about the king, one that sounds like proverbs, and ones about Jerusalem. They’re important but not the place to begin this exercise.
- You can choose a praise psalm like Ps. 138 or 150, a lament like 3 or 43, a penitential psalm like 51, a trust psalm like 63 or 91.
- It does not have to be a long psalm. Pick a short one.
Read the psalm multiple times.
- Is there context given in the subtext? Who wrote this psalm?
- Pay attention to where the psalmist changes the pronouns, the theme, his attitude, or what he is saying.
- Notice where there is parallelism. Is he saying the same thing? The opposite? Adding on top of what he was saying?
- What emotions is he expressing? What emphasis does the imagery reveal?
Divide the psalm into chunks based on your observations. You’re looking to divide it into the natural sections revealing its structure, like the stanzas of a song.
Write your observations of what the psalmist is saying in each section in your own words. This should be one sentence.
Now go back and think about how you can relate to what he is saying. Look at the sentences that you wrote to summarize the different sections of the psalm. Think about how he is responding to his circumstances and to God.
Now write your own psalm based on those same theme sentences, but about your circumstances. Follow the psalmists lead in expressing yourself to God, coming to trust Him, asking for His help, praising Him. Attempt to use the same order the psalmist did, but don’t feel trapped. Make it your own.
As we do this, the psalms become part of our prayer language. They give us tracks to run on, the prompts to pray when we aren’t sure what to say, or when our prayers have become lists of requests only. I’ve memorized some of psalms (and I’m guessing you know at least one by heart), and it opens the door to using them as patterns as I drive, walk, or wrangle small children. The psalm in Habakkuk 3 has become one I rewrite in the midst of an uncertain future. Psalm 25 is one I recite and pray through in hopes of God working faithfulness and humility into my life.
We walk in the footsteps of God’s people have prayed these same prayers throughout history. Jesus quoted Psalms often, and likely used them as a guide in his own prayers. May you study slow in the middle of your Bible, with the truth of the psalms on your lips to God.